A Chilly 'Eight Below' Can't Pull Its Weight

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
A Chilly 'Eight Below' Can't Pull Its Weight
Movie Review: "Eight Below"

Mark J. Lehman
Managing Editor

Originally Published: Tuesday, February 14, 2006

It may be that Disney has finally figured out that it's possible to make a decent film about animals where the animals themselves don't talk. Of course, in the case of the new film "Eight Below," that means that Jason Biggs and Paul Walker have to fill some of the silence, so it's kind of a lose-lose situation all around.
"Eight Below" is a survival story about a pack of eight sled dogs in Antarctica that get left behind after an emergency evacuation. Paul Walker plays Gerry Shepherd, an explorer on a scientific expedition in Antarctica, and from the moment the film begins, director Frank Marshall shows the bond between Shepherd and his eight sled dogs -- Buck, Dewey, Max, Maya, Old Jack, Shadow, Shorty and Truman.

Shepherd takes an American geologist (Bruce Greenwood) out to look for a meteorite from Mercury in the cold vast expanse of Antarctica, but problems arise as a major storm sets in and the group of scientists has to evacuate their post immediately. To Walker's chagrin, there is not enough room on the plane to take his dogs, and when they arrive safely outside of the storm's reach, the conditions have worsened to the point of not being able to fly back for a second trip to rescue the dogs. Thus, the dogs must survive through more than half a year of unimaginably brutal winter.

This is the inspiring part of the story, and this is the part that should have consumed the majority of the film. Sadly, though, nearly half of the film focuses on Shepherd's nearly futile attempts to somehow go back to the bottom of the world to rescue his pups. Director Marshall and writer David DiGilio do not understand who their hero should be, focusing too much on the human characters -- which, for the most part, are fairly one-dimensional -- and leaving the amazing part of the story how eight dogs tried to survive for months by themselves in way below freezing conditions -- as wrap around footage.

Luckily for audiences, the footage of the dogs and their story is truly a spectacle. While cheesy and somewhat unrealistic at parts, such as when the director humanizes the dogs and makes them seem as though they are talking and giving orders, many of the moments seem so candid and natural that one might think this was a documentary rather than a big studio feature film. A rare moment of death in a Disney film is shot and performed by the dogs with such a natural quality that it is absolutely heartbreaking.

Still, there is just too much unnecessary and unremarkable plot to keep one entertained and interested throughout. Along with Walker's constant struggle to get back to his pups, which at least seems realistic because of the bond established between him and the dogs at the beginning, Marshall also threw in a love story between Walker and a woman from his past (Moon Bloodgood) who helps fly him out of Antarctica in the beginning. The whole romantic aspect of the film is a throwaway plot point that should have been, well, thrown away.

If Disney wanted to make a survival story about sled dogs in Antarctica, they should have done just that, and left the other dramatic stuff to other movies, where it might actually matter and people might actually care.

Starring Paul Walker, Jason Biggs, Bruce Greenwood Directed by Frank Marshall Written by David DiGilio

Grade: C+
[via Los Angeles Loyolan: http://www.laloyolan.com/entertainment/1.398861]
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